Old age and bad eyesight create concerning recipe for dementia

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Worsening vision and cognitive decline, both of which often go hand-in-hand with aging, have long been a concern for the elderly. Researchers from the University of Michigan are taking this link one step further, adding that failing eyesight during old age also increases the chances of developing dementia.

The study involved nearly 3,000 older adults. The participants, all above 71 years-old, underwent both vision and cognitive tests during home visits. The results showed that those with eyesight issues had a significantly higher risk of dementia. This was true even for individuals who still struggled with vision despite using their regular eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Data revealed that 12 percent of the entire sample had dementia. However, the numbers escalated among those with vision issues. Nearly 22 percent of those who had trouble seeing up close and 33 percent with moderate or severe distance vision impairment, including those who were blind, showed signs of dementia. Twenty-six percent of participants who had difficulty discerning letters with low contrast backgrounds also showed dementia signs.

Vision test with patient holding glasses in front of chart
Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

After accounting for other health factors and personal attributes, individuals with moderate to severe distance vision problems were 72 percent more likely to have dementia compared to those without such problems.

Researchers say their findings emphasize the importance of prioritizing vision health not just for sight but also for overall well-being. They believe that further randomized trials should examine whether enhancing vision can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

“Equitable access to vision care services that prevent, reverse, or at least stave off progression of loss of sight is a worthy goal regardless of the potential impact on dementia and may be especially critical for those experiencing cognitive decline,” says Dr. Sheila West, of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in a university release.

A previous study estimated that 1.8 percent of dementia cases in the U.S. (about 100,000 out of 6 million patients) could have a connection to vision loss.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

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